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“If a Russian in Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia speaks the local language, can he be integrated into local society?” This was a question on Quora that I answered. Here it is. Stop the mantra, there is no integration—in the Baltic societies. We are speaking about two historical linguistic communities that need to start opening up to each to speed up economic and social development.
Latvia integration
What language do these kids speak at home? They are Latvian, the Latvian future, regardless.

This is a far too serious question to be imprecise in the terminology. What does it even mean, the integration “into local society” that you are asking about? “He”, or they rather, as a gender-neutral singular pronoun, is part of local society already. There is no other “local society” for anyone. There are maybe outliers and oddballs, but I don’t think you are asking about those. And here is an addition: regardless of the language. But in our case, regardless if it’s Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian on one side and Russian on the other, not any other language.

Estonia and Latvia are two-lingual societies, and so they will remain for the foreseeable future, whatever any of us might be dreaming about. And I personally am definitely not advocating for these two very small societies to keep this divide, which is not healthy, or keep sticking to traditions and practices (such as consuming tons of brain-twisting and depressive Russian propaganda) that antagonise the other part. If I am advocating for anything, that is peace and common sense, seeing and valuing things for what they are.

If under “local society” you mean a community that speaks one particular language, Estonian in Estonia, Latvian in Latvia, etc., then the answer is no. One does not become Estonian or Latvian enough just by speaking the language, even if at a native-speaker level. Of course, nothing stops one from choosing whatever identity one finds appropriate to keep or adopt. Even if it may require somewhat thicker skin for some more sensitive types, it is very doable. I personally know a number of individual cases of conscious choices.

I am talking about the thick skin here because most of us fret being judged by others. Those others who have opinions about other people’s choices are normally those conservative and ultra-conservative types who oppose—and do it vocally—the freedom of choosing one’s identity. They clearly believe in identities carved in stone, identities that someone else defines for you to have because the opinion of the identity carrier has no weight in the matter.

Unfortunately, the Baltic societies are rich on conservatives which is very usual for the post-Soviet societies inhibited in their social development by at least half a century. But again, the Baltics are lucky to be more advanced among the post-Soviets because they enjoy democratic governance, the freedom of expression and the other civil rights genuinely supported by a large liberally minded segment of society, unlike practically all the other post-Soviet societies.

Here is the deceptiveness of the term, integration. If you believe this is a mono-lingual “local society”, you implicitly exclude anyone else and any part of the population for whom the language of the “local society” is not their own. What are these people then? Does it mean they exist outside the “local society”? Or do they form another “society”, which also is local per se, but you might find another term for them?

The theory of a two-community society has been known at least in Latvia since the late 1980s. I am not sure which one of the sides of the ethnic confrontation introduced it. All I can say, it is beloved by that misanthropic ultra-conservative community entrenched in their obsolete beliefs of revenge and ethnic purity which basically boils down to xeno- and sociophobia, the good old hatred of humans.

I obviously oppose this theory and find it extremely toxic. But if we do recognise the existence of the two linguistic communities in one society—an unhealthy divide, remember?—that have somehow managed to keep themselves intact through the 30 years of the relatively steady advancement in the economy and democratic governance, that only can mean that these two communities remain rather hermetic and stuck in their (conservative) values. Drawn within (withdrawn), encapsulated, these communities keep themselves up not just to give up on their isolation and start letting anyone in, right? This is archaic, it opposes and inhibits the progress, it is seriously in the way of a better life. It is an immense problem. The ultra-conservativism is, as always, a problem as any form of misanthropy.

This is basically how I model my attitude to the perspectives of “integration”. It is not that much of someone learning the language and entering a beautiful freshly-painted portal into a rose garden of a “local society” by showing a language exam certificate. It is more of the two language communities opening up to each other—exactly to each other, which is the hardest of all exercises. I see it as the consolidation of society, the only “local society” that is there. There is just one, but now it is simply divided and antagonised within itself. I’d rather say: Integration is a mantra. It doesn’t help, it’s an empty shell. Stop the mantra. Start opening up.

Why so little interest in closing the gap?

On the heels of this write-up I received a very attractive question I couldn’t possibly resist to answer: Why is there so little interest in the society in closing the gap?

Very serious thought should be given to this divide. How come 30 years was not enough to heal the trauma on one side? How come the brains are still so profoundly washed by notoriously hostile propaganda on the other side? The first that comes to mind is comfort. Both sides of the divide are comfortable. Latvia is peaceful and comfortable enough as it is. In other words, one would need to step out of the comfort zone to change the status quo, obviously.

This is an investment of sorts and one would need a serious reason to do so and a way of calculating the risks of failure. The assumption is that the way we are calculating these risks makes a potential outcome look bleak—too little return on too much effort. How likely is that the national consolidation, the building of a tenable nation would prompt an impulse and more synergy to keep propelling further development? What value will it add to what is already at hand? Who and how can defend this investment? And I have not even started yet talking about the established political landscape.

In a nutshell, the need has not been properly recognised for the lack of a strong enough interest to drive the change.

My answer on Quora

Read Dimitrijs Alehins' answer to If a Russian in Lithuania, Latvia, or Estonia speaks the local language, can he be integrated into local society? on Quora

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